There remains widespread opinion about the benefits of using unqualified teachers within the curriculum. And for good reason. My area of education has always been active learning through physical engagement, whether this be during physical education lessons, lunchtime play or extracurricular activity clubs. Unfortunately, a significant number of practitioners in this area have given our emerging sector a tarnished reputation due to poor pedagogy and ignorance around the important differences between teaching and “coaching”.
It is long overdue but a trade association has recently been formed called COMPASS (Community and Physical Activity and School Sport) in an attempt to regulate the deployment of sports coaches and physical activity instructors into schools. They are calling for minimum operating standards and I am currently working with them to try and harness the raw potential of this vibrant and dynamic workforce, whilst being mindful of possible shortcomings in both their knowledge and application of fundamental teaching and learning strategies.
Primary schools often rely upon external agencies to support music and modern foreign languages, usually because there is no expertise on the staff for these specialised areas of the curriculum. I would argue a similar case for physical education but I am aware that it is easier for teachers to tackle a PE lesson than attempt to effectively teach a language or a musical instrument that they have no experience of. There are also more health and safety factors to consider with physical activity lessons than using a violin or rolling your tongue around foreign consonants.
The Academy of Medical Royal Colleges (AoMRC) have just criticised the Government’s position regarding ever rising obesity levels, quoting: "This is a huge problem for the UK. It's much bigger than HIV was, much bigger than swine flu."
I understand that Professor Stephenson, spokesperson for AoMRC, does not feel that the Department for Education has a leading role to play in the battle against the bulge, instead choosing to focus on Olympic sponsorship by fast food firms and introducing a “fat tax”.
One fact, however, is irrefutable. The UK economy has much more riding on reducing the NHS bill resulting from inactivity and obesity than increased GDP from musical maestros or multilingual marvels.
The expertise that physical educators can bring to a school is far reaching. Not only can they inspire all children to embrace and enjoy the experience of being physically exerted, they bring a completely new dynamic to the school workforce. They may not always be graduates or the most academically gifted but they can certainly be excellent role models for pupils and are often able to engage with children on a very different level to many teachers. This diversity within a school can bring the best out of all staff and can often help to make the staffroom a more fun and positive place to be. All it takes is a little time to acknowledge, induct and support the new member of your team and their impact will be amplified tenfold.
PE is one of the best subject areas to engage both sides of the brain and can have a huge impact on personal, social and emotional skills. At a time when there is excessive spotlight on literacy, numeracy and academic attainment, there is a real risk that headteachers will focus inwards and ignore the positive and tangible benefits that a balanced, embedded and high quality PE programme can bring to a school, including increased levels of attainment. If adopted and used effectively, this culture and ethos could have a life changing affect on the future health, happiness and prosperity of its pupils, even after SATs results, GCSEs and degree classifications are long forgotten.
I urge the Department for Education to take a more pragmatic view when addressing PE within the new National Curriculum and not simply pass responsibility back to the Department for Health. I also encourage headteachers to consider the benefits that unqualified teachers specialising in PE and physical activity could bring to the school. I challenge teaching staff to embrace this workforce and not feel threatened by their presence which is to support the excellent work you are already doing with pupils.
Basic market forces have dictated that schools and pupils need support in certain areas to enrich the curriculum and bring a new perspective to 21st century education. We can either welcome this movement or resist it. However, we should always put the pupils’ needs at the forefront of any deliberation and this should always trump the needs of league tables, Ofsted inspectors and Government administrations.